Common publishing advice says stick to one genre, but what happens when you want to write in other genres? Should you take the leap or stay where you are?
Growing up, I was a mostly science fiction and fantasy reader, and thus the same as a young writer. As I got older I broadened my reading interests some with YA contemporary, but it wasn’t until around six years ago that I really stepped outside my favorite genres.
My sister in law lent me one of her Jennifer Crusie romance novels when I was visiting one weekend. I’d never read romance, but I had a lot of friends who read and wrote it, so I figured I’d give it a try.
And I loved it.
Since then, I’ve become a romance fan, and I’ve made an effort to try new genres and expand my reading tastes further. I’ll read science fiction, fantasy, romance, historicals, thrillers, horror, in all their various subgenres. Besides being fun, it’s been a great resource for learning what makes different stories work, and how different writing techniques are used in the various genres.
I’ve been speaking at a lot of romance conferences this year, so I’ve been reading more romance lately.
And I’ve gotten this strong urge to write one.
I've never written romance before. I don’t even have romance subplots in my fantasy novels. But I still want to try one.
But it does make me wonder…should I?
If you’ve been thinking about stepping out on your favorite genre, here are some things to consider.
Why do you want to try that genre?
Every writer will have reasons for trying a new genre. I think understanding your motives will help set the right expectations for it. If you just want to have fun, then you won’t feel pressured to publish. But if you think it’ll suddenly change your life or career, you’re probably setting the bar too high and will end up disappointed.
It’s not uncommon for some writers to want to write what’s hot and trending, hoping it’ll get them that book deal they’ve been dreaming of. There are a slew of reasons why this isn’t a good idea.
(Here’s more on Being Trendy: Should You Write What's Hot?)
I want to try romance because I’ve been enjoying the genre a lot, and story ideas are starting to pop into my head. I’m curious to see if I can do it. I think it’ll be fun. I have no idea if I’d try to publish one or not at this point. I think it would depend on how well it turned out, and how the experience went.
How would it affect your author brand?
This won’t apply to every writer, but it’s worth thinking about, especially if you’re on a publishing schedule or readers are expecting books in an ongoing series. You might not have time to write a different novel, or the delay between your current books might cause trouble with a publisher or readers.
Spreading yourself over multiple genres also means you’re a “debut author” in that new genre, even if you have several novels already published. If the genres don’t overlap, you’re essentially starting over again to build a new audience.
It could also upset regular readers. For example, if you’re known for light-hearted cozies, then putting out a dark and brutal horror novel won’t appeal to most of your established readers. Some of them might even pick up the horror novel without realizing what it is and be very, very angry with you.
And of course, what if that new genre novel really took off? Are you prepared to shift focus if needed to satisfy those readers?
For me, unless I wrote genre romance, I’d be starting over with a new readership. I’m not against that, but I’d have to approach it differently and not expect my current readers to follow me over.
(Here’s more on Do You Know Who You Are? Building and Sharing Your Author Brand)
Would you have fun writing another genre, even if it never went beyond the first draft?
Some writers don’t want to “waste time” on books they can’t sell. Others like to write whatever interests them and worry about the selling part later. I know plenty of writers who write the idea, and don’t worry about genre or market until they get the first draft done and see how it turned out.
Personally, I think if you aren’t having fun with a novel, why write it (the bad days aside—we all have those and every book has its “I hate this thing” moments). We all have reasons for wanting a write a novel, but “fun” probably should be on your list of priorities.
(Here’s more on Does Your Writing Need a Literary Palate Cleanser?)
Is it something you might want to write more of?
This touches back to the “what if it takes off?” idea. If you have no other ideas in that genre, and the book does do well, you’ll be expected to write more in that genre. If you don’t want to, or aren’t sure you can, that will be a problem.
Any time I think about selling outside my genre, I brainstorm a bit to see if I have at least three ideas for that genre. I figure if I can’t write at least three books, it might not be worth doing it as a career path. I debated the same thing when I had some YA contemporary ideas come to me.
But on the flip side, you might not know if you want to write more books in that genre until you try it. You might find yourself flooded with ideas once you start digging into it.
(Here’s more on Indie Choices: Writing in Multiple Genres or Specializing)
What will the other genre teach you?
We learn a lot by studying other genres, and analyzing what other writers have done. Literary writers use different techniques than thriller writers, and neither of them use things the same way romance writers do. The techniques that overlap also have different approaches that fit the various genres and tropes.
If you’re struggling in a particular area, it might even help to write in a genre that uses that area as a way to immerse yourself in it. You wouldn’t be able to fall back on your strengths, and would have to find ways to make your weak areas stronger.
I’ve always been strong on plot and lighter on character, so writing in a heavy character-focused genre would strengthen that side of my skill set. I know I’d learn a ton and improve every book I’ll write afterward. Even if I never do more than one draft, it’ll benefit me as a writer and even as a writing teacher.
(Here’s more on When Fiction Doesn’t Work—What Can Be Learned?)
What would the other genre add to your favorite genre?
Some genres can share aspects, while others might not. I’m not sure how writing erotica could help someone’s middle grade fiction, but who knows? Maybe it would. But every genre has things to offer, which is why genre crossovers and blends are so popular.
I know creating richer characters with deeper internal conflicts would help my science fiction and fantasy novels, even if I didn’t use the romance aspects. I’d be able to easily add romance subplots if I wanted, or even try romantic fantasy or a sci fi romance.
(Here’s more on Choose Your Genre, Change Your World)
Writing in a new genre is worth considering when the urge hits you, but I also think it’s important to think about the larger ramifications before diving in. It can be a wonderful learning experience, might even open up an entire new career path, but it could also be an excuse not to finish the novel you’ve been struggling with (grin).
Have you ever had the urge to write in a different genre? Have you? What was your experience?
If you're looking for more to improve your craft (or a fun fantasy read), check out one of my writing books or novels:
In-depth studies in my Skill Builders series include Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means), and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It). My Foundations of Fiction series includes Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for plotting a novel, and the companion Plotting Your Novel Workbook, and my Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series, with step-by-step guides to revising a novel.
Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011).
She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.
She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, and the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.